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ROME, Aug 8 (Reuters) - The leader of Italy's ruling League party, Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, has declared that the governing coalition has broken down after months of internal bickering and that the only way forward is to hold fresh elections.
He said parliament could be convened next week to take the required procedural steps. The League's coalition partner, the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, accused Salvini of "taking the country for a ride" and said it was ready for elections.
IS THE GOVERNMENT OVER?
Not yet. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will have to go before parliament and call for a vote of confidence in his government. If he loses the make-or-break vote, then he has to resign. If he does not, he can carry on. Alternatively, he could resign without waiting for a confidence vote.
IS ITALY GOING TO EARLY ELECTIONS?
Early elections are likely but not certain. Only the head of state, President Sergio Mattarella, has the power to dissolve parliament. He will call a snap vote only if it proves impossible to form a new government. By convention, Mattarella has to consult with the presidents of the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, and the Senate as well as with all the main parliamentary party leaders before dissolving parliament.
CAN A NEW GOVERNMENT EMERGE WITHOUT ELECTIONS?
Yes, but it will be difficult to find a new coalition. One possibility could be a combination of the anti-establishment 5-Star party and the opposition Democratic Party (PD). Together they could muster a one-seat majority but would likely need help from smaller parliamentary groups or life senators to ensure stability. But several MPs from both 5-Star and PD have opposed the idea in the past. These include former PD leader Matteo Renzi who still wields strong influence over his party.
WHEN WOULD FRESH ELECTIONS BE HELD?
It depends on when the parliament is convened for a vote of confidence and how long it takes to explore other coalition options. Mattarella has made it clear that he wants a government in place to approve the 2020 budget in the autumn, which means elections must be held by October or wait until next year.
If elections are not held by October and no alternative coalition is formed by the autumn, the president could try to install a stopgap administration of technocrats, though this would still need to secure the confidence of parliament.
Italy has never held elections in autumn since World War II. It has had several "technocrat" governments in the last 25 years.
WHAT WOULD BE THE LIKELY OUTCOME OF A NEW VOTE?
Since last year's national elections, when 5-Star won the biggest share of the vote, the League has doubled in popularity according to opinion polls. It now commands 34-39% of the vote, according to the polls, suggesting it would easily be the largest party. Should it miss out on an absolute majority of seats, Salvini could call on its former centre-right allies of Forza Italia and Fratelli d'Italia to form a new government. (Editing by Mark Bendeich and Lisa Shumaker)